From the Boardroom to the Farm Stand: Applying Principles of Retail Strategy to Facilitate Farmers’ Market Sustainability
There are few recent success stories in North American agriculture that match the growth of direct marketing. The number of farmers’ markets in the United States, for example, tripled from 1,755 in 1994 to 5,274 in 2009 (USDA, 2009). Despite this positive trend, recent research suggests that this dramatic increase masks the reality that many farmers’ markets fail within their first few years of operation. Markets may fail for many reasons, including ineffective management weakened by a lack of resources. On the other hand, those markets that have been well planned and understand their strategic position and competitive advantage in the local market are more likely to survive these vulnerable formative years. Business strategist Porter (1985) developed the “activity system map” to show how a small set of core competencies (what an enterprise does well), together with specific management and policies that support those competencies, fit together tocreate a strategic position. An enterprise that has effective strategic position is said to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In this paper we describe how we created an activity system map for a farmers’ market in an eastern Tennessee. This included analyzing organizational documents and interviewing market organizers and management, and then creating a simple diagram that depicts the web of relationships between core competencies of the market and the ongoing activities and policies of the farmers’ market managers that support these competencies. We believe that farmers’ market sponsors and managers often may be too immersed in day-to-day activities to step back and see the relationship of these activities and policy enforcement to the core competencies. Activity system mapping facilitates discussions on market policy, promotion, and competitiveness. We conclude from this exercise that activity system mapping has the potential to be a useful tool for agriculture and food system practitioners in assisting new or existing farmers’ markets to increase their viability in the short run and their sustainability over the long term. Recommendations are made for adopting and/or adapting this technique for use with farmers’ markets in other communities.
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